Remembering Manchester United’s Munich air disaster

Both the BBC Wales and the Wales Air Forum have reported that former Manchester United player Kenny Morgans, who survived the Munich air disaster in 1958 that claimed the lives of eight of the club’s football players along with three staff members, has died at aged 73. Swansea-born Morgans had joined Manchester United on leaving school in 1955 and two years later, he made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old against Leicester City.

Wikipedia has a lengthy entry about the Munich air disaster which occurred when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at the Munich-Riem Airport in Munich. Twenty of the 44 people on board died in the crash while three more later dies of their injuries.

As for Morgans, he was found unconscious among the wreckage by two journalists, five hours after the official search had been called off, and he was among the nine players and one staff member who survived the crash. Although two surviving players never played football again due to their injuries, Morgans recovered and continued his playing career. He left Old Trafford in 1961 after making 23 appearances and played the remainder of his career in his native Wales.

The Munich air disaster occurred after the pilots had attempted to take off twice but were forced to abort due to boost surging in the port engine. However, the Captain was afraid that they would become too far behind schedule and decided to make a third take-off attempt. By then, it had begun to snow and the aircraft skidded off the end of the runway, crashed into the fence surrounding the airport and continued across a road before its port wing was torn off by a house.

The West German airport authorities originally blamed the Captain by claiming that he had failed to de-ice the wings of the aircraft but eyewitnesses gave statements to the contrary. Eventually, it was established that the crash was caused by the build-up of slush on the runway – causing the aircraft to fail to achieve take-off velocity. The Captain’s name was eventually cleared in 1968.

The Munich air disaster could not have come at a worst time for Manchester United as the football club was trying to become only the third club to win three successive English league titles – a feat that would take it another 41 years to accomplish.

The Munich air disaster was also the subject of an Air Crash Investigations episode which can be viewed on YouTube in its entirety.

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